Tim Benz: Can ‘Sweet Feet’ Shaun Sarrett fill Mike Munchak’s shoes with Steelers?
Everybody is in on the joke now. Not just the offensive linemen.
“There you go, ‘Sweet Feet,’ ” Ben Roethlisberger hollered as he walked past a throng of media waiting for new offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett. “Uh, I mean, coach Shaun.”
It’s been the running joke of Steelers spring practices. Sarrett, the team’s well-liked offensive assistant, has been promoted to replace Mike Munchak as offensive line coach.
So, no more chummy nicknames. Sarrett is a position coach now. Let’s all be more professional, OK?
Well, at least try.
“I keep having to focus on calling him ‘Coach Sarrett’ and not ‘Sweet Feet,’ ” guard B.J. Finney told me. “He’ll be in his 60s, and I’ll be in my 40s, and he’ll still be ‘Sweet.’ ”
The lack of formality doesn’t seem to be bothering Sarrett as he climbs the coaching ladder.
“As long as they are calling me something,” Sarrett said. “I’m just happy to have a name with the Steelers.”
The nickname followed Sarrett from his college days at Kent State, courtesy of former teammate James Harrison. Head coach Mike Tomlin overheard Harrison use the moniker. And the rest was history.
“Believe it or not, guys, I had really good feet in college,” Sarrett laughed. “I was running through the bags one day. And Shawn Armstead, one of our defensive ends, gave me the name.”
Now “Sweet Feet” has big shoes to fill. Munchak was not only a Hall of Famer as a player, he was largely regarded as Midas, with a golden touch for any offensive lineman who came through the Steelers room.
But now Munchak is off to Denver to hold the same position on the Broncos staff. So Sarrett is in charge of the group entrusted to block for Roethlisberger.
“That guy has been here, developing for a number of years,” Tomlin said. “He worked with (Sean) Kugler prior to Munch. He has grown and developed within our program. He’s very capable and ready for the assignment.”
Pro Football Focus rated the Steelers as the best pass-blocking unit in the NFL last season. All five of the primary starters return, along with quality reserves in Finney and Chuks Okorafor.
You could say Sarrett basically has been given the keys to a perfect car and is simply being asked not to scratch it.
But Munchak’s praise as an offensive line coach went beyond transforming undrafted nuggets such as Finney, Matt Feiler, Al Villanueva and Ramon Foster into high-quality starters. First-round draft choices such as David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey also frequently fawned over what Munchak did for them in terms of teaching and refining their skills.
Honing the techniques of his veteran starters is a skill Sarrett will have to perfect as his predecessor did.
“When you work with a guy five years, spending 80 hours a week with him in the room, watching how he does things, his opinion becomes your opinion and your opinion becomes his opinion as well,” Sarrett explained. “You start seeing things the way he saw it.”
Sarrett claims that Munchak had the approach that mentoring his protege was part of his duties.
“Coach Munch said it was part of his job to prepare me to be an offensive line coach in the NFL,” Sarrett recalled. “I took that to heart. He did it every day. He was testing me, quizzing me on things just like the players. It was tough, but I’m glad he did it.”
Well, if “Coach Munch” is acceptable enough for a Hall of Famer, maybe “Sweet Feet” is still acceptable for Sarrett.